McCormick Foundation has Battle of Cantigny monument relocated in France

Cantigny Park shares more than a name with a small village in France.

Leaders of the Wheaton campus spent Memorial Day weekend in the French town about 75 miles outside Paris in honor of their shared history and a joint project to restore and relocate a World War I-era battle monument.

A century ago today, American forces launched a successful attack to liberate the village from German occupation.

Cantigny's benefactor, Col. Robert R. McCormick, commanded an artillery unit in the battle, returned home and renamed his Wheaton estate after the village.

U.S. soldiers had a monument commissioned to immortalize the men who died in the Battle of Cantigny. In 1919, the sculptor created a solemn memorial with the wings of an eagle draped around the top of the monument.

But the structure sat in a field off a busy road and up a steep embankment that was difficult to reach for anyone who wanted to pay their respects.

The town's village clerk envisioned a new, more accessible home for the monument. Moving it became a common cause that brought together town officials and Paul Herbert, the executive director of Cantigny's First Division Museum.

"There aren't living witnesses to World War I," Herbert said. "It's our responsibility for historians like myself - and other people who are interested who know these stories - to make a statement in a tangible way to people who will visit this place over the next 100 years."

Cantigny's parent organization, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, funded the monument's relocation to land donated by the village of Cantigny. Foundation representatives, military dignitaries and Hebert gathered Saturday at a ceremony to rededicate the monument and mark the centennial of the Battle of Cantigny.

Their presence says something about the country's relationship with France, Herbert said ahead of his visit.

"We remind our friends in France that we share this history. It's still important," he said.

"We're still friends. We're still allies, and so the significance is certainly for the past and for the Americans who fought there 100 year ago.

"But it's also to the future. It's also to say this is important enough that people died for it, and it remains important, and we are still committed to a democratic Europe."

Fateful discovery

Paul Herbert, right, the executive director of the First Division Museum in Wheaton, helped unveil the relocated monument during a rededication Saturday in Cantigny, France. Courtesy of the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park
A flatbed trailer moved the monument from a farming field to land donated by the village of Cantigny, France. Courtesy of the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park
The Battle of Cantigny monument now rests in a more accessible park in the French farming village. Courtesy of the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park
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